02/01/2016 1:50PM

Parx pushes start of meet back one week to Feb. 20


Parx Racing has moved back the beginning of its 2016 meet from Feb. 13 to Feb. 20 because the installation of a new safety rail has taken longer than expected and delayed the reopening of the track for training.

Parx concluded its 2015 meet on Dec. 22 and then closed the track for training Jan. 3 to install a new inner rail around the dirt surface. The project originally was estimated to take two to three weeks, according to Sam Elliott, the director of racing at Parx.

But the installation hit a snag when post holes dug for the new rail filled up with groundwater. Also, after the old rail was taken down, a decision was made to dig out the drainage ditches around the inside of the track. Parx then received 24 inches of snow in a Jan. 23 winter storm.

Last week, Elliott estimated that the track would reopen for training by this Monday, but that has now been pushed back to Wednesday or Thursday.

“There was a lot of heavy construction equipment on the track to put in the safety rail, and it’s taking our track superintendent, Gerard Weipert, time to get the base level,” Elliott said.

Mike Ballezzi, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, said Monday that he was “perfectly satisfied” that everything possible was done to put in the new rail in a timely fashion.

“They had a couple of problems,” he said. “There was water in several places, and they had to address some erosion issues. There were plenty of people working; they weren’t short staffed. I don’t know what else could have been done.”

Entries for the Feb. 13 card were scheduled to be taken Monday, Feb. 8, and that would have given horsemen only a few days of training before having to enter.

“The delay in reopening the track for training has hindered my ability to card races as soon as Feb. 13,” Elliott said. “It’s in everyone’s best interests to push back the opening.”

The four days of racing that will be canceled will be made up in April, according to Elliott. Parx was scheduled to go to a Saturday, Monday, Tuesday schedule that month.

“We will add Sundays in April to make up the lost days,” he said.

Ballezzi said the horsemen at Parx were overwhelmingly supportive of the schedule change.

“To me, it was unacceptable to start the meet on the 13th because it would not have given our horsemen enough time to train,” Ballezzi said. “I didn’t want horses shipping in to have a fitness advantage over our horses. The horsemen think it’s a smart move, and they’re thankful for the extra time to train. Nobody I’ve spoken to has objected once I’ve explained it.”

The first Parx condition book has already been released. The first four days in the book will be skipped.

“We’ll just start with the day of Feb. 20,” Elliott said. “I’ll try to work in the races we’ve missed as we go along.”